• Pros: 109 effects in total, the same as on the bigger M-series models. A versatile addition to a pedalboard for around the price of a single stompbox.
• Cons: No simultaneous effects; you’re limited to one at a time. The shortage of footswitches makes live use a challenge.
• Overall: If you’re looking for something with the core effects of the M-series for less money, the M5 is a great deal, but it does lack some features from the bigger options.
Bigger isn’t always better. Well, that’s what we tell ourselves. Since we can’t always afford the fully stocked, top end effects pedals (what did you think we were talking about?) with footswitches, buttons and dials covering every square inch of their goliath surface area, compromise is often necessary. Line 6’s M13 is the biggest of the M-series, but unless you’re very serious about your multi-effects, the choice is likely between either the mid-sized M9 or the compact M5. The M5 may be a little poorly-endowed in terms of footswitches, but it still has plenty to offer – packing a lot of the same core features in a considerably more affordable package. But is it really worth it, or in this case, does size really matter?
Smaller Package; Same Effects
Rather than needlessly withholding some variety for the larger models, Line 6 has admirably included all 109 effects from the super-sized M13 in the M5. These effects include many modeled after classic stompbox effects, and plenty from Line 6’s own collection. You get 19 delays, 23 modulators, 17 distortions, 12 compressors and EQs, 26 filters and 12 reverbs, including options inspired by pedals such as the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, the ProCo Rat and the Arbiter Fuzz Face, among many others. All of this variety comes in a pedal the size of a slightly wide stompbox (about the same size as the Big Muff).
The M5 comes with 24 factory-programmed presets, but you can overwrite all of these to save your own creations. Finding an effect is pretty straightforward: push the dial on the top left of the unit in to change between groups of effects (distortions, modulators and so on) and then turn it to choose a specific effect. The rest of the dials (five in total) on the M5 are used to alter the parameters of the effects, so you can easily tweak the basic sounds to suit your requirements. For example, after you’ve selected an echo effect, you can adjust parameters to give it a faster decay, and for a filter you can specify which frequencies it affects.
Since the M5 is a compact pedal, you only get two footswitches. Ordinarily, tapping the left one activates or deactivates your selected effect, and the right one is used to tap out the tempo for modulators and delays. By pressing both of the pedals together, you put the M5 into preset mode, where the two pedals allow you to scroll up or down to the next preset. Once you’ve set up (and logically organized) your presets, this means you can easily switch between effects hands-free.
On the back of the pedal, there are 1/4 inch stereo inputs and outputs, and there is a pair of five-pin MIDI connections (in and out) on the left side. There’s also a spot to connect an external expression pedal on the back, which would make a nice addition if you’re looking to use the pedal live and want some control over parameters as you play. A lot of larger pedals do come with expression pedals as standard, though.
The M5 vs. the M9
It’s seems natural to compare the M5 to its similar but a slightly larger sibling, the M9, but the two pedals aren’t really shooting for the same thing. The M13 and M9 aim to do everything at the same time; allowing you to use different effects simultaneously (up to four on the M13) and thereby filling the role of a whole pedalboard with one single device. The M5 is fundamentally different: its job is more like that of a stompbox, but one that can be anything you want it to be at a moment’s notice. If you aren’t completely dependent on effects but use them every so often, the M5 can easily meet your needs by filling whatever role you need it to in any given song.
The lack of simultaneous effects is still a downside, but it’s a matter of how the pedal is intended to be used. Since you’ll likely already have some stompboxes, the M5 can slot into your existing setup rather than replacing it, serving as any one of 109 single-function stompboxes all for around the same price as one of them. If you do need something to form a complex, multi-effect signal chain on its own, then the M5 isn’t right for you, but for anybody else, its flexibility is a big advantage even without simultaneous effects.
With all that said, there’s a reason that all of the more expensive units tend to have more footswitches. The M5 isn’t ideal for playing live because there’s only so much you can do in the heat of the moment with only two switches. Changing between presets, for example, is fine when you’re jamming in your house, but do you really want to need to double-press the two pedals, tap up or down as appropriate and then double-tap again if you need to change effects mid song? Larger units can dedicate footswitches to changing presets, but the smaller you go the more tap-dancing you have to do. In addition, the M5’s small size means that extras like a looper (included on the bigger M-series models) aren’t included.
So the M5 is far from perfect, but it’s core appeal is for casual players looking to have fun with effects without breaking the bank. Some of the effects could be better and there’d be more sonic possibilities if you could have more than one effect active at a time, but if you don’t want to spend too much, these are the sort of flaws that can be easily overlooked. Ultimately, if you’re considering (or would consider) getting a stompbox for one good effect, while it might not be quite as well captured in the M5, you can probably get the effect you’re looking for as well as 108 others for the same price. For casual players wanting to experiment with effects, it’s definitely worth considering picking one up.
The decision you have to make comes down to what you want to do with your pedal. If you want something flexible and easy to use that doesn’t make too big a dent in your bank balance, and especially if don’t want something to replace your existing stompboxes, then you could do a lot worse than the M5. For more serious players, or anybody willing to spend a little more on their effects, then it’s probably a little too limited, but for a bit of fun at minimal cost, the M5 is just what you’re looking for.